A few years ago I was involved in the merger of two UK law firms, one with a focus on London as its main operating base, the other more regional in its operations. One of the conditions for the deal to go through was 100% approval by the partners. In terms of numbers, we were talking about 124 people.
Imagine having a hurdle in a project where, before any implementation could start, you needed the explicit and enthusiastic support of all the key stakeholders…a sure way of killing it?
So where’s the value when the challenges so dramatically outweigh the potential upsides?
Let me explain…the existence of this particular hurdle generated a set of behaviours amongst the advocates of the deal which were interesting and potentially attractive when one looks at implementation in general:
- Nothing less than a structured, highly personalised, carefully managed set of interactions was going to work to create the appetite, momentum and level of engagement from the partners to achieve the necessary vote. This required a whole series of preparatory steps:
- What were the likely objections going to be, from a client conflict, functional / sectoral, and personal perspective?
- How to explain the rationale in an ‘easy to understand’, personally attractive (what’s in it for me?), and extremely consistent manner?
- How to iterate seamlessly and consistently as the interactions led to subtle changes in direction / integration strategy based on the sensible and pragmatic suggestions of the partners?
- How to maintain momentum of the transaction whilst these discussions were taking place…and provide some sense of progress?
- How to segment the partner group effectively and make sure that each segment was engaged in a way which worked best? This was not just about message but also communications channel and most appropriate communicator
- How to describe the other firm in an incisive and interesting way?
- How to visualise and describe the potential end state of the integrated partnership?
- How to capture, understand, resolve and communicate serious issues amongst the sponsor group (those advocating the transaction) such that there was a consistent and authentic response?
- The coordination effort required behind such an effort replicated to some degree the necessary disciplines of a full scale integration and allowed the governance and communication processes to be tested prior to the real thing.
Too often, I find that by the time the project is going and the inadequacies of the structure have emerged, the effort of changing processes / personnel appears to be a decision which is too difficult to make…and so the project stutters on despite widespread dissatisfaction with how it’s working.
- The partner group became the primary communications vehicle across the business. Some were better than others, but all felt the responsibility and would, with some encouragement, report back feedback from their interactions. With some support they improved and in many cases, became powerful advocates for the process.
Can you imagine having such a powerful communications group available to you from day 1 of implementation? A wide population with both influence and power, touching all areas of the business with a similar, personal message on the plan and the end-state…now that’s something worth having.
Organisations are not democracies, employees do get paid for doing what’s expected of them, and yes, this does look like a time commitment when there’s often little flexibility in the delivery schedule. But I’d leave you with this thought.
How much time in each meeting is dedicated to re-iterating the purpose, laying out the scope and referring to the future operating model of a deal…just think how that might be more effectively used in analysing and making key decisions?
Making the elephant dance….that’s the challenge.
Categories: C suite leadership, Change management, Communication, Complex transformation, Corporate Culture, culture change, Culture clash, Defying gravity, Disruptive Innovation, Employee Engagement, human behaviour, Mergers & acquisitions, post acquisition integration, Post merger integration, Strategy